The names of the vast State Museums in Berlin hardly hint at what may be seen in the different buildings on Museumsinsel, Kulturforum, and beyond. Collections are better named but often spread through different museum buildings and exhibitions.
The Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (state or national museums) in Berlin have some of the world’s largest and most important collections of art and cultural objects. The names of the different museums do not often reveal what can be seen inside: the antiquities in the Old Museum are newer than the Egyptian works in the New Museum. Bode Museum? It does not even mean anything particular in German – it is a surname. Hamburger Bahnhof / Hamburg Station? The last train departed in 1884. The names of the individual collections or the various museums grouped in a single building generally give a much better indication of what is on show.
All Berlin state museums are open in 2023. Time-slot reservations are essential only for the Alte Nationalgalerie, Gemäldegalerie, Neue Nationalgalerie, Neues Museum, Pergamon Museum (closed from October 2023 to 2027!), and Das Panorama. Timeslots are currently released only around four weeks in advance. Buy tickets and make reservations online at GetYourGuide or at SMB. Online tickets for museums without timeslot reservations are skip-the-line — go directly to the entrance to scan the ticket. Many multiple-museum tickets and passes are again accepted. The 3-day Berlin Museum Pass is excellent value.
See Update for Opening Hours of the Berlin State Museums (2023) for the latest information.
Buying museum tickets online from GetYourGuide is a lot simpler, has better cancelations conditions, and costs the same as the official museum website. Also, note the large selection of museum passes and savings options.
The Main Collections of the Berlin State Museums
The Berlin State Museums’ vast collections of items from antiquity, the ancient Near East, Byzantium, and Islamic art are spread over the museums on Museum Island. Non-European art and culture (Asian Art and the Ethnological Collection) are on display in the Humboldt Forum in the reconstructed Berlin Schloss on Museum Island.
European (or Western) paintings and sculptures are divided throughout the city but the largest concentrations are in Kulturforum and on Museumsinsel:
- 13th to 18th-century paintings (Old Masters) are in the Gemäldegalerie (Paintings Gallery) in Kulturforum.
- Late 18th century to First World War paintings and sculptures are in the Alte Nationalgalerie (Museums Island) and a selection of sculptures in the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche (near the Humboldt Forum).
- Early 20th-century to 1960s works are in the Neue Nationalgalerie (Kulturforum).
- Contemporary art is displayed in the Hamburger Bahnhof.
- Medieval to 18th-century sculptures are mostly in the Bode Museum (Museums Island).
Museumsinsel Berlin / Museum Island
The most famous and most important museums in Berlin are on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage-listed Museumsinsel (Museum Island) in the heart of Berlin Mitte. Most museums here focus on antiquities but the Old National Gallery has 19th-century art, while the Ethnological and Asian Art collections are in the rebuilt Berlin Schloss / Humboldt Forum.
This island in the Spree River was for centuries at the heart of Berlin. The Prussian royal palace, recently rebuilt, was here and was joined by various museums during the nineteenth century. These buildings were extensively damaged during the Second World War and only properly restored at the end of the 20th century.
Work continues to link most of the museums on the island via underground passages and adding a new visitors center — the James-Simon-Galerie opened in July 2019 as the main entrance to the Pergamon and Neues Museum. Some museums – including the Pergamon Museum – are being restored in phases with certain galleries periodically closed to visitors. The Pergamon will be closed from 23 October 2023 and reopen in phases from 2027.
Pergamonmuseum / Pergamon Museum
The Pergamon is being restored and the entire museum will be closed from 23 October 2023. Some parts, including the Hellenic Halls, the famous Pergamon Altar, and the Islamic Art Museum will reopen in 2027, while the rest may be closed until the mid-2030s. Some statues from the Pergamon Altar may be seen in the temporary and separate Panorama Exhibition.
The museum originally completed in 1930 is most famous for the reconstructions of the large archaeological structures: the Pergamon Altar (this hall is closed until probably 2027!), Market Gate of Miletus, the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon, and the Mshatta Façade.
The main collections in the Pergamon Museum are:
- Antikensammlung – a large part of the antiquities collection (rest in the Altes Museum and Neues Museum)
- Vorderasiatisches Museum – Art from the Ancient Near East
- Museum für Islamische Kunst – Islamic Art from the 7th to 19th centuries.
Neues Museum / New Museum
The Neues Museum is in a mid-19th-century building by Friedrich August Stüler but was seriously damaged during the Second World War.
Ironically, the New Museum now houses a collection even older than the antiquities in the Old Museum:
- Ägyptischen Museum und Papyrussammlung – Egyptian art, including the bust of Queen Nefertiti, and a large papyrus collection.
- Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte – prehistoric and early historic objects from all parts of the Old World.
- Antikensammlung – a small part of the antiquities collection, especially works from Roman provinces.
The Neues Museum competes with the Pergamon as the most-visited top museum in Berlin and requires time-slot tickets – buy online from Get Your Guide as mobile phone tickets.
Entrance to the Neues Museum is either through the Simon James Gallery or from the older entrance across the square from the Alte Nationalgalerie.
Alte Nationalgalerie / Old National Gallery
The Alte Nationalgalerie was the third museum on the island and opened in a neo-classical temple-like building in 1876. It is still the home of the national art collection, although it is now so large that several buildings in Berlin are used to display the paintings and sculptures.
The collection in the Alte Nationalgalerie:
- Mostly 19th-century paintings and sculptures. Around 400 paintings and 100 sculptures are on display from the late 18th to early 20th centuries.
Altes Museum / Old Museum
The Altes Museum is a neo-classical building with 18 Ionic columns designed by Karl Friedrich Schinkel in the 1820s. It is on the open Lustgarten square together with the Berliner Dom and the Schloss.
The Altes Museum now houses the:
- Antikensammlung – the largest part of the antiquities collection with art from the Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans. (The rest of the collection is in the Pergamon and Neues Museum.)
- Münzkabinett (Numismatic Collection) – ancient minting (rest of the collection is in the Bode Museum.)
The Bode Museum opened in 1904 as the Kaiser Friedrich Museum but is now known after its original builder. The building was seriously damaged during the Second World War and only reopened in 2006.
The Bode Museum houses the:
- Skulpturensammlung – sculptures from the Middle Ages to late 18th century enhanced by 150 paintings from the Gemäldeglerie.
- Museum für Byzantinische Kunst – art from Byzantium from late antiquity to early Middle Ages.
- Münzkabinett (Numismatic Collection) – one of the largest collections of coins, seals, and medallions in the world.
Humboldt Forum in Berliner Schloss
The Humboldt Forum in the rebuilt Berlin Schloss on Museum Island reopened in December 2020. The Stadtmuseum Berlin (local history), Humboldt University, and other institutions have temporary exhibition rooms here but the two main SMB museums in the Berliner Schloss are:
- The Etnologisches Museum / Ethnological Museum has an enormous collection of artworks and cultural objects from outside Europe. The focus points are African art, American archaeology, items from the South Seas, and Islamic culture.
- The Museum für Asiatische Kunst / Museum for Asian Art has one of the most important collections in Europe of Asian art from the 3rd century to the present.
Note that both museums follow the longer opening hours and ticket system of the Humboldt Forum and are not included in general Museum Island passes. Admission to both museums are currently free and without time-slot reservations.
Friedrichwerdersche Kirche / Friedriechwerder Church
A contemporary of the Altes Museum and also designed by Schinkel, the Neo-Gothic Friedrichwerdersche Kirche was the first large brick building built in Germany since the Middle Ages.
The church is used by the Nationalgalerie to exhibit part of its collection of 19th-century sculptures – covering the period from Schinkel to the end of the Kaiserreich (ca. 1789 – 1918). The church is just off Museumsisland across the Spree Canal from the Berliner Schloss. Admission is free.
Kulturforum / Cultural Forum Museums in Berlin Tiergarten
The Kulturforum / Cultural Forum is a collection of purpose-built museums and cultural centers. The focus here is European art.
Most buildings here were erected during the Cold War, at a time when the reunification of Germany seemed impossible. In addition to the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin buildings, the area is also home to the Berliner Philharmonie.
Gemäldegalerie / Paintings Gallery
The contract for the building of the Gemäldegalerie was awarded only three years before the fall of the Berlin Wall. By the time the modern building was finished, the divided collections could be united leaving the Gemäldegalerie with one of the most important collections of European Old Masters art in the world.
- The paintings on display in the Gemäldegalerie are mostly European art from the 13th to 18th centuries. The main focus points are German and Italian art from the 13th to 16th centuries and Dutch art from the 15th to 17th centuries (including 16 works by Rembrandt).
Kupferstichkabinett / Museum of Prints and Drawings
The Kupferstichkabinett Berlin is the largest collection of prints and drawings in Germany and the fourth largest in the world. Its collection of 550,000 prints and 100,000 drawings spans a thousand years and ranges from Andy Warhol to Dürer and illuminated manuscripts. Visitors enjoy frequently changing temporary exhibitions and the possibility to request viewings of specific works.
Neue Nationalgalerie / New National Gallery
The Neue Nationalgalerie opened in 1968 as the last building designed by Mies van der Rohe. Following a comprehensive restoration from 2015 to 2021, the Neue Nationalgalerie is used for major exhibitions of modern art from the early 20th century to around the 1960s. (Contemporary art is in the Hamburger Bahnhof while a new large museum for 20th-century art is under construction next to the Neue Nationalgalerie.)
Kunstbibliothek / Art Library
A huge library of art and cultural works with occasional special exhibitions.
Kunstgewerbemuseum / Museum of Decorative Arts
The Kunstgewerbemuseum displays decorative arts from the early Middle Ages to the present, a large collection of clothes from the 18th century to the present, and parts of the magnificent Welfenschatz (Guelph Treasure).
Musikinstrumenten-Museum / Musical Instruments
The Musikinstrumenten-Museum (Musical Instruments) is not part of the state museums but is absolutely worth seeing and is included in the Kulturforum ticket. Around 800 musical instruments are on display including a working Wurlitzer theater organ.
Other Berlin State Museums
Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin
The Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin is one of the largest contemporary art museums in the world. The former station was already converted into a museum in 1916 but the name stuck.
The Hamburger Bahnhof displays contemporary art from the 1970s to the present. It is only two blocks from the new Berlin Hauptbahnhof. It stages a variety of temporary exhibitions every year.
Museums in Berlin Charlottenburg
The collections of the museums in and near Schloss Charlottenburg have mostly left for Museum Island since the reunification of Germany. Two art galleries across the road from Schloss Charlottenburg remain part of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. In contrast to the rest of the National Gallery, both these centers are mostly based on specialized originally private collections.
- The Museum Berggruen (closed until 2025) displays mostly Classical modern art including works by Picasso, Klee, and Matisse.
- The Sammlung (Collection) Scharf-Gerstenberg includes art of the fantastic, especially a large Surrealist collection.
Museum für Fotografie / Photography Museum
The Museum für Fotografie / Photography Museum has a permanent exhibition of Helmut Newton works and large temporary exhibitions of photos owned by various other museums. This museum is to the west of the Zoologischer Bahnhof station.
Museum Europäischer Kulturen / European Cultures
The Museum Europäischer Kulturen / Museum of European Cultures shows everyday items, rather than high art, from the contacts between different cultures in Europe since the 18th century. It is the only museum that remained in the 1960s museum building in Dahlem in the southwest of Berlin.
Schloss Köpenick is a Baroque palace commissioned by Friedrich I of Prussia. It is in the far eastern outskirts of Berlin and thus rarely visited by casual visitors to Berlin.
- Schloss Köpenick is used by the Museum of Decorative Arts to display items from the 16th to 18th centuries.
More on the Berlin State Museums (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin):
Note: Most Berlin museums and similar sights are open in 2023. Timeslot reservations are essential for only the Alte Nationalgalerie, Gemäldegalerie, Neue Nationalgalerie, Neues Museum, Pergamon Museum (closed from Oct 2023 until 2027!), and Das Panorama. Timeslots are released only around four weeks in advance. Tickets are available from GetYourGuide that seem to have timeslots available when SMB has already sold out — many passes or multi-museum tickets are again available. Individual museum ticket prices range from €6 to €14 (€20 for special exhibitions). Online tickets are skip-the-line — go directly to the gallery entrance to scan the code.
For more general information on the Berlin State Museums:
- Top National Museums and Galleries in Berlin (brief overview)
- Berlin State Museums: What Is Seen Where? (a short description of the collections in the different museums)
- Opening Hours of Berlin State Museums (2023).
- Ticket Prices for Berlin State Museums (prices for museums, temporary exhibitions, combination tickets, online time-slot reservations). Buying online from GetYourGuide is a lot simpler and costs the same as the official museum website. Timeslot reservations are essential for the most popular museums!
- Save with the Berlin Museum Pass – 30 museums (including all the SMB museums) in three days for €32 – a fantastic savings deal.
- Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (official website in German & English).
News & Temporary Exhibitions:
- 2024: Overview of Top Berlin Exhibitions in 2024, Caspar David Friedrich in the Alte Nationalgalerie, Frans Hals in the Gemäldegalerie, Neue Nationalgalerie (20th-century art) Hamburger Bahnhof Contemporary Art, Kupferstichkabinett (Prints and Drawings), and Photography Museum.
- Top Special Temporary Exhibitions in 2023 — overview, in the Kulturforum, in the Neue Nationalgalerie, on Museum Island, and the Museum of Photography.
- The Pergamon Museum will be closed completely from 23 October 2023. It will partly reopen only in spring 2027 (with the rest to follow by the mid to late 2030s).
More Museum Reviews and Museum-Specific Information:
- Alte Nationalgalerie with Caspar David Friedrich paintings (2024 special exhibition).
- Altes Museum with Greek, Etruscan, and Roman art.
- Ethnological and Asian Art Museums in the Humboldtforum.
- Friedrichswerdersche Kirche (free admission) with a collection of 19th-century German sculptures.
- Gemäldegalerie with its collection of German and Dutch Old Masters and Italian paintings.
- Kunstgewerbemuseum (Decorative Arts).
- Musical Instruments Museum near the Berliner Philharmonie.
- Neue Nationalgalerie with early 20th-century art and Alexander Calder exhibitions.
- Neues Museum with bust of Nefertiti.
- Pergamon Museum with Ishtar Gate — the whole Pergamonmuseum is closed from October 2023 until 2027.
- Pergamon Museum Panorama Exhibition with Asisi panoramic painting and Greek statues.
- Photography — Helmut Newton collection and historic photos.
Previous Temporary Exhibitions:
- Top Special Temporary Exhibitions in 2022 — overview, in the Kulturforum (David Hockney), in the Neue Nationalgalerie, on Museumsinsel, Hamburger Bahnhof contemporary art, and the Museum of Photography.
- Top Special Temporary Exhibitions in 2021 — including the reopening of the Neue Nationalgalerie, as well as the Ethnological and Asian Art Museums in the Humboldt Forum.
- Top Special Exhibitions in 2020: Highlights, in Kulturforum, on Museum Island, in the Hamburger Bahnhof, smaller museums, and the opening of the Humboldt Forum in December.